Monday, November 13, 2006

Crime and punishment in a Christian society

I suspect some people will have noticed that I'm in favour of a strong penal system and may be wondering how I can square that with my Christian beliefs. Surely, as a Christian I should be advocating forgiveness, tolerance and other Christian principles. Well, I do, but let me try and explain why my opinion is that a belief in Christianity does not contradict a belief in a strong penal system.

First of all, as a Christian I do believe that it is right to forgive those who "sin" against me and I try and ensure that I follow that principle. It's one of the reasons why I don't bear grudges against people. But forgiveness is very much a matter for the individual involved. In other words, it's up to each and every one of us to decide if we choose to forgive those that commit crime against us. It is between us and our God. It is not up to the state to forgive on our behalf.

Secondly, as a Christian I believe it is the duty of all Christians to urge those who deviate from the path of Christianity to come back to it. To do that they must be brought to the point where they understand what it is they have done wrong and show genuine remorse for their wrong doing - this is the act of repentance. For criminals this is most likely to be achieved by ensuring that they are properly punished and properly serve penance for their misdemeanours - which is where prison comes in.

Prison provides an opportunity for "sinners" to come to terms with, repent their crimes and serve their penance. For many the realisation of that will come quickly and easily - but, they should understand also that just because the realisation of their sin and remorse for committing it comes easily, this does not mean that their punishment should be quick and easy. It's not that simple. There will always be a certain number of people who will never ever repent and will always be criminals, but for those who are "saveable" we have to make sure that we help them to salvation.

The punishment of prison should be the path that leads them to true remorse for their crimes - not for self-pity and sorrow for their predicament - but to the real realisation that they have done wrong and a real understanding that that wrong-doing must be punished. Anyone who is truly sorry for their crime will realise that the punishment is deserving - and should accept it fully. That doesn't happen now. Instead, too often they are made to feel that they are the victim of the system and that the punishment is unjust. They understand what they need to do to "play" the system, take advantage of that system and manipulate it to their benefit.

I believe that the first purpose of prison is to punish the wrongdoer - but I believe, in a Christian world, that punishment and rehabilitation go hand in hand, because the realisation of the "sin" brings with it proper remorse and real remorse means real acceptance that the sin must be punished. Few criminals ever get to that stage. They know what to do to get out and they will take whatever steps necessary and say what ever is required to reduce their sentence. That is not genuine remorse or repentance - that is cheating.

Personally, I believe we would have for more success at getting criminals to rehabilitate if there was a concerted effort in prisons to teach them the real meaning of Christianity. It is through Christianity that we learn the principles of self-restraint, self-censorship and self-control. It is through those principles that we learn how to lead a life where we can resist temptation and ensure that we "do the right thing". It's through understanding of what is the right thing to do that we realise that it is better to help your fellow man than it is to take from him.

I'm certain fewer people would re-offend if they left prison with a genuine belief in and understanding of Christianity than if they leave with an OU degree in Social Science.

1 comment:

Northwing said...

I'm a Christian and I often struggle with the concept of the death penalty, as used in the US. To me, forgiveness and redemption are two quite magical things that go hand in hand. Execution goes against the concept of redemption because it cuts life short, artificially, even though in Old Testament terms it *is* a befitting punishment to some crimes.

The ability of prisons to punish and rehabilitate is being eroded all the time. Human Rights law is putting paid to that.